A few facts about the 1909-1911 period, from the People’s Budget to the Parliament Act, taking in two elections along the way, which show us that there is nothing new under the sun.
- Both elections in 1910 resulted in a hung Parliament with about 70 Irish Nationalists, and 42 Labour MPs.
- The Unionists (Conservatives) won 2,270,753 votes to the Liberals 2,157,256 but the Liberals had one extra seat.
- There were three major parties in Parliament during this era, and after 1910 the Liberal majority was somewhat reliant on them for majorities.
- The Liberal government was accused of being in hock to Irish Nationalist support.
- In 1906 the Liberals increased their seat count by 214, and in January 1910 they lost 123 seats. These sorts of swings were not unusual in this period. In 1945 Attlee increased his seat count by 239. No winning party then increased by over a hundred seats until Tony Blair in 1997. Cameron added 98 in 2010. Theresa May lost 13 seats.
- Balfour’s Unionist opposition were prepared to have a referendum about Home Rule, which the Liberals were not. Unionists in the Lords actually put forward a failed bill to introduce referendums when the two houses couldn’t agree.
- Lansdowne, a future Liberal cabinet minister, then Unionist leader in the Lords, put forward radical proposals for a new House of Lords which would have been a much bigger change than the Liberal Bill that eventually passed.
- Apart from outright abolition (and maybe including that) some of the Unionist proposals are in many ways more radical than anything proposed since.
- The current set up, where the remaining hereditaries elect which of them have the 92 seats in the Lords, is similar to a scheme proposed by the Unionists in 1910.
- Aggressive Parliamentary procedure tactics were used, like forcing endless divisions to keep MPs voting all night and wear them down, during the 1909 budget.
- Once the budget had been voted down the reduction of the House of Lords’ power was inevitable in one form or another. It was all a question of how. That was why the Unionists put forward so many radical ideas and why they split into pragmatists and reactionaries.
- Lloyd George is often cited as a romantic hero of progressives because of the welfare spending he introduced in his budget, but it was just as much an exercise in fiscal discipline to finance dreadnaught war ships and the newly-introduced pensions Asquith had miscalculated, and a way of anticipating and preventing the anti-capitalist budgets that a Labour government would introduce.
- Lloyd George advocated coalition during some of the House of Lords discussions, and he eventually went into a war-time coalition with the Conservatives. This was one of the factors that led to the Liberal party almost disappearing and never holding majority power again, or any sort of government power until the Cameron-Clegg coalition.
If you want to know more, try Mr Balfour’s Poodle.